What the best freezer has
- Useful features. The features owners appreciate the most are an interior light, a power-on indicator, a locking door, and an alarm that goes off if the freezer becomes too warm inside.
- Well-organized storage. Adjustable shelving in an upright freezer and hanging baskets in a chest freezer make the best use of space and make food more accessible.
- Consistent temperature. The best freezers will hold the same temperature throughout all parts of the freezer, even if the temperature in the room varies.
- Quiet operation. Manual-defrost freezers, which run the compressor less often, tend to be quieter than auto-defrost freezers.
- Easy defrosting. If you choose a manual-defrost model, look for one with a drainage hose or port so you can empty water down the drain or out the door, rather than soaking it up with towels.
- Low energy use. Professional test results are a better guide to energy use than the yellow EnergyGuide labels. The editors of ConsumerReports.org write that on average, the freezers they tested used 17 percent more energy than was listed on the labels.
- Reliable operation. A good freezer should get good reviews for durability, and it should also be able to keep food frozen for a full 24 hours during a power outage, as long as it stays closed.
- Good customer service. If your freezer does break down, the experience will be much less frustrating if you can get it repaired or replaced quickly.
Know before you go
How will you use the freezer? If the freezer is meant to supplement a too-small freezer compartment in your fridge, you may prefer an upright model that makes the contents much easier to see and access. If your goal is to buy meat in bulk and store it throughout the year, a chest freezer gives you more storage space for its size and uses less energy. Also, consider which features will be most useful to you. A safety lock is handy if you have small children who might leave the freezer open or climb into it. A quick-freeze feature, which can freeze large volumes of food quickly, can lock in the fresh flavor of garden produce; a soft-freeze zone is nice for keeping ice cream at a scoopable consistency.
How much room do you need? Freezers come in four basic sizes: compact (around 5 cubic feet), small (6 to 9 cubic feet), midsize (10 to 18 cubic feet) and large (19 cubic feet or more). The larger the freezer the more it costs to run, so don't buy more space than you can use. If you just want to store ice for parties, a mini freezer will give you plenty of room; if you want to store a whole side of beef, you'll need a midsize freezer at least.
Where will the freezer go? Measure your space to see how large a freezer you can accommodate. Leave a few inches around the freezer for air circulation, as well as enough room to open the door. Also, check the path to and from the spot where you'll be moving the freezer and make sure that it can fit through doors and hallways.
If you plan to keep your freezer in an unheated area such as a garage, check the freezer's specifications to make sure it can handle the range of temperatures to which it will be subjected. In general, most freezers can handle temperatures between 32 degrees F and 100 degrees F. By contrast, if you plan to store your freezer in or near living areas, the priority becomes choosing a quieter model that won't drive you and anyone else in the house crazy with the noise of its compressor.
Are you okay with manually defrosting the freezer? Manual-defrost freezers run more quietly than auto-defrost models, won't dry your food out as quickly, and they're more energy efficient. However, if you let too much ice accumulate on the inside, they'll lose some of that energy efficiency. If you're not okay with the idea of manually defrosting your freezer any time more than a half-inch of frost accumulates inside -- usually about twice a year -- it's worth purchasing a model that automatically defrosts itself.
Value expectations: The dollars and cents of it
Will a freezer save you money? That depends on what model you choose and how you use it. As a general rule you should buy the smallest freezer possible, because empty space just means wasted energy and extra frost build-up. If you use the freezer regularly, it's easy to earn back the purchase price in savings by freezing extra garden produce, storing the catch from your hunting trips, buying meat and other groceries in bulk, or stocking up during sales. Another good strategy is to prepare big batches of food to freeze as a way to avoid less-healthy "convenience" foods.
Don't forget to include the yearly energy cost of operating the freezer. Most of today's top models cost between $25 and $50 per year to run, so you'll need to save an extra $3 to $5 off your monthly grocery bill in order to make up the purchase price.